Sunday, March 16, 2014

Wuxi Barbecued Spareribs - Regional Eastern China Speciality

The city of Wuxi China (Jiang County) is celebrated throughout China and around the world for it's tasty, tangy barbecued pork spareribs.

A short essay into why this recipe, and other Chinese (Sino) recipes are denominated BARBECUE (BBQ) is first in order. Most western barbecue recipes involve pit cooking or hot-smoking of meat, poultry or fish. Not so with Chinese. There is some spit or rotisserie cooking in the Chinese canon of cookery, but it seems like a long reach to this author as to how or why the term BBQ is applied to Chinese foods. That is especially true for a braised dish like this one. The Mexican canon does have a dish: barbacoa, which is very similar to (American) barbecue. 

This dish is easy to make. The ribs are braised for a while in water and then in a sauce. The service is attractive as the ribs are braised in a sandpot (also spelled sand pot). Here is a picture of mine.

A word of caution about using this vessel. NEVER allow the flame or electric coil to directly reach (touch) the bottom of the pot. Keep the flame lower than the surface. Never heat the pot without liquid in it and at least 1/2" of liquid. Never transfer a hot pot to cooler surfaces or into cooler liquids. Use a trivet or hot pad to prevent the pot from reacting to cooler temperatures and cracking. If you follow these precautions, you have have a pot that gives many lifetimes of service.

Next, a brief word is in order about the sin qua non ingredient. There must be the Red Fermented Tofu and the origin of that is the Wangzhihe brand. I am fortunate to live in a part of the world where there is a large Chinese population.  Mr. Wang, desirous of passing the Imperial Examination, visited Beijing to take the exam in 1669. While he failed, he became a tofu maker. Some of the tofu ended up in a pot with wine and forgotten. When Mr. Wang returned to it, the tofu had fermented. It is called: stinky tofu and is an acquired taste. The jar shown is not stinky. It is merely fermented and palatable to most anyone's taste.
Click to enlarge to read

I purchased this at the 

168 Market
1421 E Valley Blvd
Alhambra, CA

My 8 oz. jar cost $2.79 (March 2014 prices) and is enough to make 2 to 3 batches of ribs.

The recipe I give also requires the ingredient: Diluted Red Vinegar. If you cannot find this, use regular rice vinegar and add a few drops of red food coloring to it, before you use it in the recipe.

Wuxi Spareribs Braised in Fermented Tofu

4 1/2 pounds pork spareribs
9 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt
7 tbs. Red Fermented Bean Curd (dòufu)
8 tbs. banana ketchup (not as vinegary sharp tasting as Heinz)
6 tbs red vinegar (rice vinegar)
3 tbs Shaoxing wine (if using the wine with salt, reduce the salt above to 1 tsp)
90 grams rock sugar (6 tbs.)


Have the butcher remove the flap from the backside of the rack of ribs. If you have a good relationship with your butcher ask him to cut the top rib bones about 1" on either side of the bone to sever the cartilage, too. I had the ribs cut in 1 1/2" lengths, but you will not go wrong if the ribs are their full length.

Cooking - Timings and Techniques

In a (metal) stockpot, in 5 cups of boiling water, add the ribs and after the pot returns to a boil, blanch the ribs 2 minutes. Put the pot under cold running water and quickly cool the meat.

In the sand pot put 4 1/2 cups of water, add 1 1/2 tsp of salt and return the blanched ribs to the sand pot. Bring up the flame to boil the water, whence lower the flame to a simmer and braise the ribs for 1 3/4 hours. Turn off the heat, remove the ribs to a plate or bowl.

The remaining water, about 2 1/2 cups is divided. In a glass measuring cup, pour the braising liquid and stand for 5 minutes. Remove the fat that floats to the surface with a spoon. I tilted the cup to more easily skim off the fat. Remove 1 cup and use for soup stock or the like. To the 1 1/2 cups add the remaining ingredients, mixing them all to a near paste like consistency (mix so there are no chunks of tofu). Pour the sauce into the sandpot, return the meat and bring to a boil, uncovered. Lower the heat to a simmer and braise the ribs for 45 minutes longer. Check the pot every 15 minutes to insure there is sufficient liquid to not crack the pot. If the sauce looks thin at the end of the 45 minutes, braise an additional 15 minutes.

Serve with rice, adding the extra braising sauce to each bowl. Optionally, serve: soy sauce, extra red vinegar and hot sauce.